Thursday, October 27, 2011

Opening weekend for Yale

Yale will get started this weekend with the fifth annual Ivy Shootout, a tournament that is likely in its final season -- at least in the current format. Here are a few notes from my sit-down with Keith Allain and Brian O'Neill today.
  • Senior defenseman Kevin Peel (foot) is out for this weekend, and will be on the shelf for a while longer. It hurts not only because Peel is one of the team's best, but there are only six healthy defensemen on the roster. Freshman Adam Thompson left the team last month for personal medical reasons, and will not be returning to Yale. Walk-on freshman Alex Ward is playing D during practices to help. There will be three freshmen in the lineup this weekend, and they must grow up in a hurry.

  • Similar to last season, Allain will let the goaltending situation sort itself out. Juniors Nick Maricic and Jeff Malcolm will make the trip to Dartmouth, with freshman Connor Wilson home for this one.

  • Losing nine seniors, all of whom had integral roles, could leave the Bulldogs with a bit of an identity crisis in the early season. Allain and the current seniors have spent a good portion of the last two weeks getting the newer guys up to speed. "It's a lot more teaching this year," Allain said. "Nine players is essentially a third of your hockey team. And they were nine four-year players, so guys that were ingrained in how we do things. But change can be good as well. I expect us to be better a month from now than we are now. It's going to take time. That's just the way it is."

  • This weekend should give a better indication of where Yale is than last Saturday's exhibition loss to Waterloo. Allain did a lot of experimentation, sat some top players for the final two periods and used all three goalies. He said the intensity in practice has been good, but admitted the Bulldogs are still being broken in.

  • The late start (Oct. 15 first practice) is a big reason the Ivy Shootout came about, allowing Yale, Brown, Princeton and Dartmouth to open the regular season against competition that's all in the same boat. But the current format will likely end this year because it gives each team a home weekend once every four years. Allain said the four will still play each other in some format the first weekend, but it could be held at two sites each season. Plans are still being discussed.

  • Yale has actually fared well against non-league competition on opening weekend prior to the inaugural Ivy Shootout in 2007 -- and with team's much less talented than the Bulldogs enjoy now. In 2006 Yale beat Holy Cross and New Hampshire; in 2001 it opened by beating No. 3 New Hampshire and No. 1 Boston College and in 2000 it beat No. 5 New Hampshire three days after a 3-2 loss at Michigan. Of course, they took some beatings, too. North Dakota combined to win 18-4 in a two-game sweep in 2003, and losses to Alabama-Huntsville and St. Cloud State (a 10-0 game at Yale) were embarrassing. But now that Yale is a perennial NCAA contender, it's not worth the risk to open outside the Ivy, Allain said.

  • The goals haven't changed at all, O'Neill said. Yale is still looking to reach the Frozen Four and win a national title despite losing so much talent. It's still a realistic goal, O'Neill said. "Anything less would be a disappointment to us," he said. "The only thing left for us to accomplish as seniors is to win a national championship. Programs like North Dakota and Miami have experienced the same kind of turnover, where they're losing players to the pros or having a large senior class that's been effective. We have a lot of turnover, but we brought in a lot of guys that are ready to go right away. We also have a lot of depth from last year that wasn't quite exposed enough, they didn't get the opportunity last year. Now, they have the opportunity. I think you're going to see a couple of stars you might not have thought would be stars."


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